As the Hong Kong Investment Fund Association (HKFA) calls on Hong Kong to provide a concrete plan to end quarantine restrictions to ensure it retains its status as an international financial centre, banks have already been hedging their bets.
“It cannot be become a norm for major business executives or investors to skip Hong Kong in their Asia trips because of quarantine requirements,” Nelson Chow Kin-hung, the association’s chairman, said in a media briefing.
But Big western banks are looking outside Hong Kong as they look to fill regional leadership roles. In June Deutsche Bank appointed Darren Boulos as co-head of global FX for Asia Pacific, based in Sydney. Boulous replaced Lee Merchant who relocated from Sydney to London to become global head of spot trading.
This is the latest example of Deutsche turning to Australia as a source of talent for regional roles. Its APAC Head of Credit Solutions and Structuring, APAC Head of Listed Derivatives and Clearing and Asia Head of Asset Finance, are all titles held held by bankers based in Australia.
Meanwhile, Nomura’s appointment of Jwalant Nanavati as head of investment banking for South East Asia will see him relocate from Hong Kong to Singapore where he will continue to run the Japanese bank’s technology, media and telecoms practice for Apac.
Sources say that over time Nanavati could hire additional industry coverage bankers based in Singapore. HSBC is also building out its presence in Singapore.
One senior banker in Singapore said: “This is not the exodus that is being portrayed, but it’s a rebalancing. It’s going back to a period pre-Handover when banks were more split between Hong Kong and Singapore. I’m seeing more people come to Singapore, but it’s a complement, not an alternative to Hong Kong.”
One Hong Kong-based headhunter added: “Western banks want to keep a decent foothold in Hong Kong to have access to China, but most have moved some support functions to Singapore. They are also looking to build out sector coverage as a way of finding new fee pools and hedging their bets.”
As well as the lure of the fee pool, many bankers also prefer Hong Kong to other locations. Meanwhile, bankers who have relocated temporarily to Singapore say they can’t wait to get back to Hong Kong and hope the quarantine situation is resolved soon. “Singapore is incredibly expensive and bit dull,” said one.
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